The throne room of Duma was as elaborate as the culture and means of the Brokols could make it. There were battle scenes painted on the walls; there were dyed fabrics hanging at the windows and doorways; swords and spears and the heads of animals adorned the walls.
Duma sat upon a carved bench on a dais strewn with furs. He was a large man, as hairless and hideous as his subjects; and he was loaded with bracelets, armlets, and anklets of gold. A Brokol woman, the first I had seen, sat on a lower bench beside him. She, too, was weighted down with golden ornaments. She was Dua, the vadjong. This I learned later, as also that the jongs of Brokol were always named Duma; and the vadjongs, Dua.
“Which is the slave from Japal?” asked Duma, and then, “I see, it must be the one with yellow hair and gray eyes. Ka-at did not lie. Did you tell Ka-at that you came from a country ten million four hundred thousand kobs from Brokol, fellow?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And did you tell him that there were a hundred and thirty million people in your country?”
“Ka-at did not lie,” he repeated.
“Nor did I,” I said.
“Shut up!” said Duma; “you talk too much. Could you lead an expedition to that country for the purpose of obtaining loot and slaves?”
“Of course not,” I replied; “we could never reach it. Even I may never return to it.”
“You are, even as Ka-at said, the greatest liar in the world,” said Duma; then he turned his eyes upon Jonda. “And you,” he said; “where are you from?”
“How many people are there there?”
“I never counted them,” replied Jonda, “but I may say that there are fully ten times as many as there are in Brokol.”
“Another liar,” said Duma. “Brokol is the largest country in the world. Can you lead my warriors to Tonglap, so that they may take prisoners and loot?”
“I can but I won’t,” said Jonda. “I am no traitor.”
“Shut up!” said Duma. “You talk too much.” He spoke to an officer. “Take this one who is from Tonglap and put him back in his cage. Loto-El-Ho-Ganja wished to see the other one. She has never seen a man with yellow hair and gray eyes. She did not believe Ka-at any more than I did. She said, also, that she would be amused to hear the greatest liar in Amtor.”
They led Jonda away, and then several men with plumes fastened to their heads surrounded me. They carried golden gaffs and very heavy short-swords with ornate hilts. Their leader looked at Duma, who nodded; and I was led from the throne room.
“When you enter the presence of Loto-El-Ho-Ganja, bow seven times,” the leader instructed me, “and do not speak unless you are spoken to; then only answer questions. Ask none and make no gratuitous observations of your own.”
Loto-El-Ho-Ganja has a throne room of her own in a temple that stands not far from the palace. As we approached it, I saw hundreds of people bringing offerings. Of course I could not see everything that they brought; but there were foods and ornaments and textiles. It evidently paid well to head the church of Brokol, as it does to head most churches and cults. Even in our own Christian countries it has not always proved unprofitable to emulate the simple ways of Christ and spread his humble teachings.
Loto-El-Ho-Ganja sat on a gorgeous golden throne that made Duma’s bench look like a milkmaid’s stool. She was surrounded by a number of men garbed like those who escorted me. They were her priests.
Loto-El-Ho-Ganja was not a bad looking girl. She was no Brokol, but a human being like me. She had jet black hair and eyes and a cream colored skin with just a tinge of olive, through which glowed a faint pink upon her cheeks. I’d say that if she were not beautiful, she was definitely arresting and interesting; and she looked alert and intelligent.
After I had bowed seven times she sat looking at me in silence for a long time. “What is your name?” she asked after a while. She had a lovely contralto voice. Listening to it, I could not imagine her drinking human blood or taking a bath in it.
“I am Carson kum Amtor, Tanjong kum Korva,” I replied; which, in English, would be Carson of Venus, Prince of Korva.
“And where is Korva?”
“It is a country far to the south.”
“I do not know exactly—several thousand kobs, however.”
“Did you not tell Ka-at that your country lay ten million four hundred thousand kobs from Brokol?” she demanded. “Were you lying then or now?”
“I was not lying at all. The world from which I originally came is not Korva, and that other world is ten million four hundred thousand kobs from Brokol.”
“By what name is it known?” she asked.
“The United States of America.”
She wrinkled her brows in thought at that; and a strange, puzzled expression came into her eyes. She seemed to be straining to bring some forgotten memory from the deepest recesses of her mind, but presently she shook her head wearily.
“The United States of America,” she repeated. “Would you tell me something about your country? I cannot see what you could expect to gain by lying to me.”
“I shall be glad to tell you anything you wish to know,” I replied, “and I can assure you that I shall not lie to you.”
She arose from her throne and stepped down from the dais. “Come with me,” she said, and then she turned to one of her priests. “I would examine this man alone. You may all leave.”
“But, Loto-El-Ho-Ganja,” objected the man, “it would be dangerous to leave you alone with this man. He is an enemy.”
She drew herself up to her full height. “I am Loto-El-Ho-Ganja,” she said. “I know all things. I have looked into this man’s eyes; I have looked into his soul, and I know that he will not attempt to harm me.”
The fellow still hesitated. “Such a thing has never been done,” he said.
“You heard my command, Ro-ton,” she said sharply. “Do you, my high priest, dare question my authority?”
He moved away at that, and the others followed him. Loto-El-Ho-Ganja led me across the room toward a small door. The throne room of this goddess, if that was what she was, was even more elaborate than that of Duma, the jong; but its wall decorations were gruesome—rows of human skulls with crossed bones beneath them; doubtless the skulls and bones of human sacrifices.
The small room to which she led me was furnished with a desk, several benches, and a couch. The benches and the couch were covered with furs and cushions. Loto-El-Ho-Ganja seated herself on a bench behind the desk. “Sit down,” she said, and I seated myself on a bench opposite her.
She asked me about the same questions that Duma had, and I gave her the same answers that I had given him; then she asked me to explain how there could be another world so far from Venus, and I gave her a very sketchy explanation of the solar system.
“Sun, planets, moons,” she said musingly, “moons and stars.”
I had not mentioned stars. I wondered how she could have known the word.
“Before they brought me before you,” I said, “I was told to speak only when I was spoken to, and to ask you no questions. “
“You would like to ask me some questions?”
“You may,” she said. “Ro-ton and the lesser priests would be shocked,” she added, with a shrug and a smile.
“How did you know about stars?” I asked.
She looked surprised. “Stars! What do I know about stars? I am Loto-El-Ho-Ganja. That answers your question. I know many things. Sometimes I do not know how I know them. I do not know how I knew about stars. In the back of my mind are a million memories, but most of them are only vague and fragmentary. I try very hard to piece them together or to build them into recognizable wholes,” she sighed, “but I never can.”
“Of course you are not a Brokol,” I said. “Tell me how you came to be here, a living goddess among alien people.”
“I do not know,” she said. “That is one of the things I can never recall. Once I found myself sitting on the temple throne. I did not even know the language of these people. They had to teach me it. While I was learning it, I learned that I was a goddess; and that I came from the fires that surround Amtor. My full title is Loto-El-Hotanja Kum O Raj, “ (literally Most High More Than Woman Of The Fire; or, for short, Fire Goddess) “but that is too long and is only used on state occasions and in rituals. Ro-ton and a few of the others I permit to call me just Loto in private.” She pronounced it lo’to, and as it means Most High, it was still something of a title. “You,” she added graciously, “may call me Loto while we are alone.”
I felt that I was getting on pretty well, to be permitted to call a goddess by her first name. I hoped that she was going to like me so well that she wouldn’t care to drink my blood, or even bathe in it.
“I shall call you Carson,” she said. “Like so many other things that I cannot understand, I seemed to be drawn to you, from the moment I first saw you, by some mysterious bonds of propinquity. I think it was when you said ‘United States of America.’ That name seemed to strike a responsive chord within me. Why, I do not know. United States of America!” She whispered the words softly and slowly, almost caressingly; and there was that strange far-away look in her eyes.